For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Today I thought I’d go back to the beginning. The VERY beginning. It’s the story of the day I was born, which I love, because it seems like it was a difficult and ridiculous day for everyone involved. I obviously have no memory of it, but I’ve been told it went something like this:

Origin of the Me-cies

Sacramento, CA, 1972: My parents have recently moved across town to a new house. As far as I know, they don’t really know many people in Sacramento—they moved there when my Dad got some sort of construction job at the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant (home of “the third most serious safety-related occurrence in the United States!”).

My brother, Todd, is almost five and our cousin Bridgette (also five) is visiting, along with her mother and grandmother. Between my dad’s job and his as-yet-unchecked alcoholism, he’s keeping pretty busy, so his mother and sister have flown in from Texas to help take care of things whenever my mom goes into labor.

That was the plan, anyway. I am more than a week overdue (“Never too early to start being late for stuff!” –me) and my grandmother and aunt are getting impatient. They spend each day asking my mom “When is that kid gonna come?!” and entertaining two five-year-olds with trips to local attractions. My cousin tells me that she and my brother were promised a trip to Disneyland the day before I arrived, and that my being born ruined it. (“Never too early to start ruining stuff!” –also me)

Losing patience, my grandmother makes my mom drink a glass of Castor oil to induce labor (the seventies!). Late that same evening, her contractions begin. It’s after midnight. My dad is out drinking beer and playing poker somewhere and has our (only) car.  Wherever he is, he can’t be reached by phone. And he doesn’t have one of those “Daddy Beepers” because beepers don’t exist because they haven’t been invented yet because it isn’t the future. (Help us, TIME CAT!)

My mom knows that calling an ambulance will be too expensive, and apparently taxicabs won’t pick up a woman in labor, for insurance reasons. So, out of desperation, my mom calls her former neighbors from across town—a couple in their 50s that she barely knows. She wakes them up, explains her predicament and they rush over to take her and my aunt to the hospital. My grandmother stays home with the kids and waits for my Dad (her son), with whom she (and everyone) is now furious. I mean, have you ever had to call a casual acquaintance in the middle of the night to ask for a hugely inconvenient favor because you are out of options? I can imagine my mom spent every non-contraction moment feeling either mortified or livid or both.

WHAT A JOYOUS DAY TO BE BORN!

Hours later, my Dad arrives home. My grandmother hears him come in, and doesn’t confront him right away. She is waiting for him to realize that my mom is missing (in the middle of the night), panic, and come to her, looking for answers.

Instead, he passes out in the bed, completely unaware that anything is out of the ordinary. My grandmother waits a few minutes, then bursts into his bedroom and yells, “JUST WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOUR WIFE IS?” To which my dad replies, “Guh?” and then slowly gets it together and leaves for the hospital.

For the next 30-some-odd hours, my mom is in labor, and after a day and a half she is craving sleep, food and cigarettes (the seventies!), which she is not allowed to have. When my dad, grandmother and aunt are not busy eating and smoking in front of her, they complain about how long this birth is taking. If my mother hadn’t been exhausted, in constant pain and living on nothing but ice chips, she might have punched all of them in their smoking, eating faces. Instead, she kept quiet and carried on forcing a human being out of her vagina.

THE MOST SPECIAL DAY, AM I RIGHT?

Finally, I am born, and I am pretty awesome (so I’m told). I am named after the daughter of one of my Dad’s Navy buddies. My Dad just liked the name Darci, and he won the coin toss that determined which of my parents got to choose the name. A quarter landing on “heads” instead of “tails” is the only reason you aren’t currently reading the story of the day Chrissy Ratliff was born.

Almost four decades later, my cousin and my brother have still never been to Disneyland. You know who has been to Disneyland? Me. (YA BURNT!)

One who has control over the mind is tranquil in heat and cold, in pleasure and pain, and in honor and dishonor, and is ever steadfast with the Supreme Self.” -Bhagavad Gita

 

It is Monday morning and I am pulling on the smooth wooden handle of the sauna door at the North Boulder Rec Center. My eyes adjust to the dim light and I step inside under the watchful gaze of two men sitting at opposite sides of the bench facing the door. I smile without meeting either of their eyes and take a seat at the small bench next to the stove on the right. The bench burns the undersides of my thighs and I fidget under the sting of heat and male eyes above me. In a rush, I make for the empty, high bench opposite me, turn backwards and boost myself up with my palms so that I can sit with my back to the men and my eyes to the door as if we are in an elevator conceived in the mind of a man named Bikram.

I breathe in slowly.

I am out of practice with saunas, having spent the last few years of my life with a baby on one hip. Even so, I like to think of myself as one who enjoys the all-encompassing heat. I like the mental exercise—the progression of thoughts that branch in my mind.

My first thoughts, of course, spider toward Hell. But despite my evangelical roots, it’s not a particularly biblical image of Hell, favoring instead the imagination of Dante or Bosch. Demons goad. Bare breasted women with rotted out mouths taunt. Unshaven men limp from chamber to chamber with various impalements. All pathways are circular.

My next thought is that I don’t believe in Hell anymore.

After this, I remind myself that I enjoy heat. That I was born in the middle of a Sacramento summer. That I was born for this.

I remind myself that heat is a test of endurance. That surviving it—choosing to stay in it when easier air is only four feet away—is a matter of resolve.

My next thought is of a story Scott once told me about a massage parlor he visited in Hong Kong. There was a stretch of hot pebbles on which people were meant to walk in order to increase their sex life. Every minute on the rocks was an equivalent increase to one’s sex life. He said he watched one little, old man walk back and forth on the rocks the entire time he was there. Back and forth. Back and forth.

I remind myself that I can and must handle anything.

I remind myself that I am as strong as I will allow myself to be.

I breathe slowly, savoring the sensation that my nostril hairs are being singed.

I think of ovens. Crispy Peking duck. The witch in Hansel and Gretel. Jeffrey Dahmer.

I have had enough.

In spite of the fact that I have already traveled from Sacramento to Hong Kong with a stopover in Hell, in human terms I have only been in the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center for about 45 seconds. I am just out of practice, I excuse myself weakly. I have had babies. Babies do not mix well with extreme heat. It says so quite clearly in the Operating Instructions. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something like: “Saunas: No babies.” Behind me, the older man shifts his weight and lets out a deep sigh.

I study my legs pulled up in front of me to an upside down V. Since it’s dark, I don’t notice all of the imperfections I normally obsess over. Uneven color. Nicks from the razor. Little blue veins. I am wearing a steel gray swimsuit. It is a two-piece that covers my tummy and has halter straps that tie around the back of my neck. It says to anybody who is looking too hard or thoughtfully at it: I have had babies. Babies who don’t belong in the sauna.

And please stop looking at my tummy.

The bench behind me crackles and groans and the older man appears in my peripheral vision. He exits the sauna in a rush of air. The air feels like life.

When the door closes, I sit as still as the wooden planks surrounding me. I am aware that the water from the pool has evaporated from my body and I have commenced a slow bake. I wonder when I will begin to sweat. I long for this release.

Behind me, the young man pushes off the bench. I expect him to leave like the older man, but instead he stops, facing the door. I wait. From his lithe back, I surmise he is in his late twenties. His skin is tanned the color of the wood door and he has long Jesus hair, which tickles his back as his shoulders rise and fall once. He turns abruptly and hangs a light blue towel on the rail in front of the stove as if he intends to dry it out faster. I wonder if he is stupid.

He stands with his sweat drenched back to me and fills his lungs with air. From my place on the scorching planks I watch as his chiseled back expands with his breath. He stares at the door, blocking my entrance to it.

Sauna etiquette is not much different than elevator etiquette. No talking. No eye contact. Face the door. If you cough, you say, excuse me. If someone else coughs, you wait a full minute before bailing so it doesn’t appear you are leaving on account of them and their diseased lungs. Having never met this person before, I am fully prepared to play by the rules. I sit perched on the high bench, flanking him at 3 o’clock. When he turns around, I drop my eyes as if I don’t see him. As if I am so consumed with my own world of razor burn and the sex drive of little, old men that I don’t even register that he is there.

To our left, the stones hiss as he empties a ladleful of water over them. He turns toward 9 o’clock and stretches his back left and right. He exhales the slow leak of a loud, aspirated ‘h’.

Not stupid, I realize then. Enlightened.

Watching him over my shoulder, I realize I have made a mistake entering the sauna. The truth is, I don’t really enjoy the heat. That was something I just told myself when I was fresh out of the water and the thought of detoxing my pores appealed to me. I may have mentioned this before, but I am a lightweight. Babies and all.

Just then he drops his torso forward and reaches down for his toes, releasing as he does this a yogic groan that not only aligns his chakras, but mine as well.

I want to leave but also fully realize that my departure at this point might be considered rude. We’re in Boulder, after all. What he is doing isn’t that strange. Everyone does yoga here. The organic produce section of Whole Foods alone is practically filled with people doing yoga. Mountain pose to reach the salad sprinkles. Warrior pose to reach the kiwi and mango simultaneously. Triangle to procure cucumber. Would I make him feel uncomfortable if I left? Would he feel bad knowing he drove a fellow sauna sitter away? Would it set back his progress toward enlightenment?

I consider my possible responses and their effect on his dying ego. And if I leave now, what does that say about me? That I’m squeamish? Insecure? A Republican? He rights himself and turns back in my direction. My eyes snap to the door. Certainly I can handle a minor chakrasm alone in a sauna with a hippy version of Adonis himself.

When I lived in Hong Kong, there was a small English style pub I used to visit. There was only one bathroom in the pub, inside which was a toilet and a urinal separated by a curtain. There was no lock on the main bathroom door. Once I had just ducked into the toilet when the door swung wide and some guy walked in to use the urinal on the other side of the curtain beside me. I couldn’t do it. I stood up, zipped up, and left. Behind me, the man apologized profusely through the door insisting that we could somehow work it out between us. I don’t mind, he kept repeating. Come back!

He is now facing the back of the sauna. With arms raised, he bends his torso right then left. If I raised my left arm, my fingers would leave a trail through the sweat up his side. The closed door beckons me. He is slowly rolling his shoulders now and commencing pranayama. In my peripheral vision I watch as he fills his abdomen, then lungs; then he empties his lungs, then abdomen. He does this eleven times.

I am confused. I want to leave, but I no longer know how to do so gracefully. Clearly he has a regimen. From the looks of his slick and hollowed-out face, I estimate he has been in the sauna for at least three hours. If I leave now, he will understand. He will know it is not simply because I was made to feel uncomfortable or because he has detracted from my own karma with his practice. I may not have ridden it out to the lengths of, say, a Libertarian, but maybe at least to that of a Democrat. It would be all right. We have an African American president. I have simply had enough of the sauna. I will leave at the final emptying of his abdomen so as not to interrupt his Nirvana.

Without warning, he begins to make sharp, even bursts with his nose. I turn to look and see that his forehead is slightly bent forward and his eyes are closed. He increases in tempo until he is performing nearly three breaths per second. I have missed my opportunity. I wait for him to finish this respiratory miracle in the midst of the oppressive heat. My head is swirling now, having mastered nearly four whole minutes in the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center. I wait for a pause in which to make my exit. But the pause doesn’t come. When he finishes his Breath of Fire, he pitches forward and umbrellas his Jesus hair over his toes. He groans with pleasure.

Not enlightened, I realize then. Asshole.

The thought alights on my shoulders like a lotus petal caught and fallen in the morning breeze. I can not believe I did not see it earlier. He wants me to leave. The entire time he has been trying to make me uncomfortable so that he can be alone. So that he can have the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center all to himself. Right on cue, he begins gyrating his hips in slow, large circles with his head now thrown back to get a better look at eternity through the planks in the ceiling.

I hold my eyelids open with effort and watch him as he stirs the heat slowly with his kundalini. Suddenly he stops and looks my way. I look back at the door.

All this time I have been secretly admiring his lack of ego—his ability to break the social mores of the sauna-elevator classification—when in reality he is trying to drive me out of the sauna. His sauna.

I continue to stare at the door as his egoless ego bores a prana-shaped hole into my psyche. He has declared war.

It is enough. All at once, I give in to the heat and let my eyelids fall like a tankini over a stretched out stomach. I lean my head back against the wall for support—for when the unconsciousness will soon overtake me—and smile, just as somewhere in the background, the elevator musak switches tunes to that of a desperate om.

I moved back to California around two months ago. What brought me back home after fifteen years? Well, a few things. Personal things. Some things not so personal. In the end, I was feeling a bit tapped out in Vegas. The bones weren’t tumbling like they used to and I was almost at the point where I didn’t give a shit either way.

I weighed my options. Perhaps, a stint in Phoenix? Washington? One thing I knew for sure: I was staying on the West Coast. That’s what I knew. I didn’t care if it was a dinky little town in the green of Oregon or the pale hard concrete of L.A.

I lived on the East Coast. In Charlotte. Right in the middle of the Bible Belt, blatant racism, and heavy unapologetic ignorance. The experience crippled me. Life became less romantic overnight. When I moved back to Vegas a year and a half ago I returned a different person.

“Come to California,” a friend told me over the phone.

Maybe it was the way she said it. Maybe it was because thoughts of quaint rustic coffee shops and rolling foothills filled my head. Maybe it was because of who was saying it. I packed up in the middle of the night and headed for the California state line.

On my way to Sacramento I pulled over at a gas station just outside of Bakersfield. I took out my notebook to jot down some notes and came across some jumbled song lyrics that had a line that said: “So, what’s wrong with California?”

I found the line fitting.

So, what was wrong with California?

The long gold beaches?

The weather?

The culture?

Its politics?

Paris Hilton?

I got into Sacramento in the afternoon, rubbernecking the city from off of I-5. It was a beautiful day, a light blue sky stretched from side to side. Deep-green pine trees lined the freeway. Cars with white license plates that said CALIFORNIA (One reading CBlondie. No shit.) in fancy handwriting passed by me. Sure, it wasn’t home as in Southern California, but it was home nonetheless.

To celebrate, I found a bar and pulled over. It was a dark little thing loaded with neon signs and good beer. A couple was in the corner in conversation. There was a guy sitting at the end of the bar reading Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith.

Nice, I thought. A secular man. A fellow homeboy. I was on the West Coast indeed.

I looked bad. My face was drawn from the 10-hour drive. My clothes were wrinkled. My hair was sticky and dreading up. My baseball cap was on backward. The bartender carded me.

“That’s you?” she asked, raising her plucked eyebrows, looking at my ID and then at me. “Wow, you look real young for your age. Vegas, huh? I love that place. Just got back a few weeks ago. I want to move there.”

“Give her a try,” I said, my mind flashing over the Strip, the little condo in Henderson. ”You can take my place. She’s a good city.”

It’s funny when people want what the other has. What’s an old story to you is new one to someone else. She wanted out of California. I wanted in. She wanted my old city. I decided to let that city go.

I wondered what it was that made her want to move to Vegas. Did she fall for its hot neon lights like so many have before her? – like I did back in ‘95 with some electric guitars and a head full of craziness. Was she captured by the slow silence in the parched desert that surrounds her glow?

Or was it something else? Not so much with Vegas, but with California. Did she hate her boss? Her apartment? Did those quaint rustic coffee shops brew nothing but bitter memory?

So, what’s wrong with California?

The traffic?

Happy Hour?

Hollywood?

A friend took me to “the City” a few weeks back. “The City” is San Francisco to the locals. I haven’t seen San Francisco in years. What a sight. Blue-gray water. Blue sea skies. The skyline, bold and jagged and bursting at the seams.

That night we saw Patton Oswalt in concert at the Masonic Theater on Nob Hill. The crowd was in full force. The comedy crowd. Beanies and Buddy Holly glasses. Tight button shirts and mischievous faces. I’ve been a fan of Oswalt’s for years. Sarcastic. Sharp. Always in a state of shock by what he sees and hears. We busted up. He killed. 

“Thank you very much,” he said, before he left the stage. “Your city kicks fucking ass.”

After the show we walked in a biting wind to find something to eat. After a long haul that took us by some big-cash retailers and dozens of closed Chinese restaurants we found a worn down diner with slow service. While we waited for our food we talked about San Francisco, its kaleidoscope delivery, and watched the blurry show from inside the restaurant.

Artists and business folk walking side by side. Homeless people moving about in smudged footsteps. Taxis squeezing in between cars and bodies. And the wind: Sweeping around stop lights, faces, and gutters.

I thought to myself: I could live here. Forever.

So, what’s wrong with California?

The trees?

The Bees?

The blondes?

Arnold Schwarzenegger?

I found the move to California inspiring. Having somewhat of an idea of who I am, I figured this move would provide me with some new material. And sure enough I knocked out a few poems, took a couple of swipes at some fiction.

But the guitar took over and I started banging out songs. One song. Two songs. One night I woke up in the middle of the night after dreaming of some guy singing to me: “Been ninety days since I’ve seen her Spain.” I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my notebook and scribbled some lyrics, some chords, and passed out right there on the floor.

In the morning I had a skeleton of a song. By the time the day was done the song was done. It’s now a tune called “Bleed.” Five chords. In the key of A.

Hit the road under a sheet of stars/Headlights on in a rolling car/What was up ahead/Could drown her bed

Then more songs came:

Could Be Better.

All I Want.

These Horses.

Walk.

The black in me/How she comes then wants to leave/The girl’s alive/Dressed herself and walked on by/Now she’s sweet as apple pie/If I ate you once, I ate you twice

It’s been a good run and as I write this I know it’s not over. The last couple of days I’ve been walking around humming this tune. I don’t have my guitar with me so I’ll just have to continue walking around humming this melody until I get my guitar in my hands.

It’s in E minor. I know that.

The other day a friend asked me how long I was going to be in California as if it was an experiment of sorts.

(Hell, maybe it is.)

“I don’t know,” I said.

That was the truth. I don’t know. Could be six months. Could be six years. Maybe longer. Maybe not. But what I do know is that I’m here. I’m not in Vegas. Or Washington. Or L.A. Or some dinky little town in the green of Oregon.

But here.

In Northern California.

Or Nor Cal.

Riding down its streets.

Feeling its heat.

Writing songs, sipping coffee.

Eating it’s politics, it’s culture.

Living.

So, what’s wrong with California?

I don’t know.

So, the plane touched down. I sat in between some dude that had a little too much of Vegas and some chick with large pretty brown eyes.

He smelled like he was broke.

She smelled good.

I like girls that smell good.

She kept looking over my shoulder trying to read the book I was chewing into.

“Whatcha reading?” she finally asked.

“William Kittredge. He kicks some major ass,” I said, jumping my eyebrows. “You should give him a stab. I’d give you this copy, but I don’t know you that well so you’ll have to shell out your own duckies.” 

She laughed.

I like making girls laugh.

Especially ones with large pretty eyes and that smell good.

I love women, period.

Anyhow.

I had a running joke with a friend that when I arrived we’d get a game of basketball going when our schedules allowed. She’s an ol’ pal and back in our high school days we played hoops.

Varsity.

Jackets and all.

She was a point guard.

So was I.

She had a passion for the sport back then (still does) and even went to college to play. I had a passion for weed and music and doing anything that would keep me out of the house. So, in essence, I sucked. But I was a three-year letterman, so I guess I had a little something going.

“We gonna get this fucker going or what?” I said, lacing up my sneakers.

“Really?” she said, flashing her fabulous blue eyes. “You want some?”

“Shit…”

I hadn’t played basketball in years. This broad runs a thousand miles a week and looks like an eighteen-year old. She’s around twice that age and has heads snapping everywhere she goes. She’s stunning.

But I’m a dude and will do anything to mix things up. Even if that means I’ll be on the shit-end of the deal.

I’m playful that way.

Or a jerk-off.

Being the gentleman that I can sometimes be, I gave her the ball first.

“Ball in.”

It took us a bit to get things going. We were playing on a home court so we had to make the needed adjustments.

I scored first.

Nailed a ten-foot jumper. All net. All Reno. I shot my arms in the air like I was Bono sucking up all that good rock and roll light.

“Oh, lord. Someone’s in deep trouble.”

Then it quickly went downhill from there.

She was, and still is, a great defensive player and had me locked in. She still had solid technique, eyes on the center of my gut, feet shuffling, and the only option I had (other than barreling over her Man-Style) was to try my luck in getting her on her heels, getting a good look, and going for the jumper.

It worked a few times but the jumpers weren’t jumping.

Uh-oh.

Then she started driving on Reno. I forgot my technique and watched her zip by me.

One point.

Two points.

I hit another jumper. And then another.

I was feeling good.

Sweat fell off my ugly face.

The sun was high and casting white light over the valley.

But in the end, oh yes, she got me. Came flying by me like Michael Jordan and dropped in the final point.

5 to 3.

“Home court advantage!” I screamed, sweating like a pig, out of breath, but smiling big because I found some pleasure in her taking me out. ”You cheated! You suck!”

“Kiss my ass, Romero.”

It was a blast. A cool time indeed.

Forrest Gump said that life was like a box of chocolates.

And you know, I think he was right. 

I like chocolate. Especially the ones that See’s Candy cooks up. The ones with the sprinkles.

But maybe life is also like a game of basketball.

A strong lay-up.

Boxing out.

A jumper that needs to be hit.

Being a team player.

Making the pass.

Playing good D and making sure nothing gets by your ass.

Nothing.

Ball in.

Ball in.

Ball in.

I don’t know.

You tell me.

(Anyhow, here’s to girl victory. You fuckers.)

SACRAMENTO, CA-

For the first time in my life I’m leaving without running away.

It’s making me a bit nervous actually.

Most of my traveling has been panic-driven.

“I hate my life. I have to get out of here,” I’d say.

Then I’d begin a frantic search for the cheapest flight to anywhere.

Failing that, I’d jump in my car and drive. Drive 12 hours to Vancouver for the weekend. Head north on Interstate 5, stopping only when the panic subsided.

For years I blamed my unhappiness on this city.

I’d tell myself it was all because I was stuck here in Sacramento. It gave me that small-town feeling. The there’s-nothing-to-do-in-this-town, I’m-going-nowhere-with-my-life, I-have-to-get-out-of-here feeling.

I was one of those people who thought escaping this town meant escaping my life.

What I learned is that I needed a better life before I could be anywhere without looking for my next escape route.

Sacramento wasn’t the problem. And I only know that now because for the last couple of years I’ve been really happy here.

How do I know?

Because now when it’s time to leave I ask, “Why do I have to leave? What made me decide to do this?”

I’m nervous about going now because I don’t have dreams about finding something bigger and better somewhere else. I’m not romanticizing my trip the way I would have before.

People keep saying, “Moving to France? Wow, aren’t you so excited?” And I want to say yes, but the truth is I’m really anxious. I feel like I’m making a big mistake. What if I’m leaving something really great and I end up being miserable there? I’ve never had these types of what-ifs before. It’s giving me a nervous stomach.

“I’m sure everything will be fine.” This is my new mantra.

The more I think about it, the more I think it will be great, really.

It will be. I know it. Because this time I’m going without the idea that Paris will save me from myself.

Besides, if Paris sucks I know Sacramento will be waiting right here where I left her.

Leaving3


Rebecca Adler is moving to Paris this week. There she will continue to write while posing as an au pair. She can be reached on myspace or on the comment board.